West River amalgamation proposal aims to 'protect' assets of individual communities

Five rural communities in Queens County have submitted their official proposal for amalgamation to the province.

The West River Group is comprised of council representatives from Meadowbank, Afton, West River, Bonshaw and New Haven-Riverdale. The group sent its vision for what a new West River Municipality would look like, after consultation with each community. 

Elizabeth Wilson, a councillor for the Rural Municipality of Afton and chair of the West River Group, says the main priority was to protect the assets unique to each community.  

"I think each municipality was very concerned about their infrastructure — the things that their volunteers built years ago," said Wilson.  

She gave examples like the community centre in Afton, 10.5 hectares of outdoor recreational space in New Haven-Riverdale and the schoolhouse in Bonshaw. 

CBC

"As a group, we had to look at the best way we could protect those assets, but at the same time meet the requirements of the Municipal Government Act."

Wilson said in addition to infrastructure, municipal tax rates were a top consideration. Under the proposed amalgamation, residents and businesses would pay $0.16 per $100 assessment. For some communities that's more than residents pay now, for others it's less, but Wilson said residents stand to gain a lot under the proposed amalgamation. 

"They'll see an official plan developed for the whole area so that we can hopefully maintain our rural aspect," said Wilson. "We'll also see emergency measures planning."

The new municipality would have a chief administrative officer, and an office that would be open 20 hours a week. 

"Right now each individual municipality has a CAO, but that CAO is paid an honorarium and probably works out of their kitchen at home," said Wilson.

She said the new municipality would also have a planner, so residents won't have to travel to Charlottetown to deal with building permits. 

'Going to be rural'

Wilson believes another benefit of amalgamation would be having a larger pool of citizens to draw from to serve on council —  something she said has become more and more of a challenge in her three decades of service. 

"I think what people have to look at is sustainability," said Wilson. 

"We're still going to be rural. We're still the country. And we still have a lot of agriculture and fisheries, but this way we have a larger group to draw on."

Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC

She said that would mean more people could be involved with, and have a choice in, how the community is developed.

Under the proposed amalgamation, a 10-member council could be made up of two members from each of the five existing municipalities, she said.

Council would be tasked with deciding what shape it would take in time for the next municipal election in 2022, she said, and it would be led by a mayor appointed from one of the existing community councils.

Proposal in hands of IRAC

Minister of Communities Jamie Fox said his department got to work right away reviewing the proposal after receiving it.

"It was reviewed by our staff and municipal affairs, and then it came before my desk and I reviewed it in its entirety, and I've now forwarded it to IRAC for consideration," said Fox, who confirmed no areas would be annexed as part of the proposed amalgamation. 

"We're talking about five communities that all share a common boundary — no unincorporated area is affected by this."

Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC

He said the public will have a chance to weigh in on the proposal through IRAC. Once that process is complete, it'll be returned to the Department of Communities, and Fox will decide whether to recommend amalgamation to cabinet.  

He said at this time, he's not considering a binding referendum on the matter.

Together, the amalgamated group of municipalities would have a population of 3,154. 

More P.E.I. news